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The Enduring Influence of Thomas Malthus

Eugenics, Malthusianism, and Birth Control

You may not have heard of the 1798 treatise An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Robert Malthus, but its influence has been profound and endures to this day. Malthusians eagerly lap up Mathus’ dreary predictions that the earth’s resources will be stretched to the limit unless major intervention into the population takes place.

Malthusianism is deeply related to eugenics, but has managed to escape the same stigma eugenics suffered in the wake of Nazi Germany. As observed in an article at the Library of Economics and Liberty: “The Malthusianism told them that millions had to die; the eugenics told them who the victims ought to be.” The eugenics movement was embraced by 20th century socialists like Marie Stopes, John Maynard Keynes, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger and H.G. Wells – and was made infamous by Adolph Hitler.

Eugenics and Malthusianism, were also deeply linked to a phrase devised by Margaret Sanger: “Birth Control.”

An illustration from Margaret Sanger’s “Birth Control Review” from 1918.

A revealing bit of history is explained in the October 1961 issue of “The Eugenics Review“:

“The term ‘birth control,’ coined by Mrs. Sanger, soon became popular in England as expressing better the aims of the movement than the older more clumsy term ‘neo-malthusianism.’ In time ‘birth control’ itself became outmoded and we now have ‘planned parenthood’ or ‘family planning.’

Neo-Malthusianism competed with “eugenics” in its connection to “birth control.” “Eugenics” and “birth control”, according to the Women’s History Review, were “so intertwined as to be synonymous.”

As previously mentioned, Malthusianism may have been the close brother of eugenics, but Malthus’ discredited theory on population still endures. The influence of Malthus’ ideas on Adolph Hitler was clear.

Consider Hitler’s own words:

“The day will certainly come when the whole of mankind will be forced to check the augmentation of the human species, because there will be no further possibility of adjusting the productivity of the soil to the perpetual increase in the population.”

Compare Hitler’s quote to Thomas Malthus:

“The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. ”

In the case of the pre-Nazi eugenicists, the solution to this problem of population was forced sterilization of “undesirables” and “birth control”. After Hitler effectively discredited the eugenics movement, it morphed into other areas, such as abortion, euthanasia, and global warming alarmism. But it never went away.

Just as the communists did not evaporate when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, Eugenicists did not evaporate in the wake of Nazi, Germany.

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Renee Nal

Renee Nal is an investigative journalist and documentary film producer.

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